Danger Gal Friday: Gwen Cooper

Owen: “Make yourself useful, sweetheart, pass us the big chisel from the toolbox?”
Gwen: “Not sweetheart, Gwen. One syllable, sure you can manage it.”
Owen: “Not sweetcheeks? Freckles? New girl?”
Gwen: “It’s a shame your tool’s not big enough for the job. Darling.”

This week’s Danger Gal Friday profile is of Gwen Cooper from the BBC show and Dr. Who spin-off, Torchwood as portrayed by actress Eve Myles. Cooper comes to Torchwood after her South Wales Police officer investigative skills lead her to discovering the secret Cardiff branch of the Torchwood Institute. While often the “everyday man” member of the team, stand-in for the audience, and her obvious compassion, Cooper never loses her sharp edge and proves to be an asset to the team over and over again. Hathor Legacy sums up Cooper’s character nicely:

Despite being the conscience of the team, Gwen’s not a pushover. She can chase down a suspect with the best of them, is willing to use force, sticks to her convictions even when everybody with far more experience thinks she’s bonkers. Kindness and strength in one person. Kindness as strength. Gwen’s not a perfect person, but she’s a darn near perfect character.

Gwen handles much of the interviewing of witnesses and investigative work due to her previous experience as a police officer. Jack Harkness, head of the Cardiff Torchwood office, regards Cooper as the grounding force of his team, reminding everyone of their ties to humanity. One of the main themes of Cooper’s character is her struggle to maintain this humanity and her inability to reveal to Rhys Williams, her live-in fiance, the true nature of her work.

In dealing with the dangers she faces everyday as part of Torchwood, Cooper temporarily turns intimately to fellow teammember Owen Harper. Harper, an all-around unlikable character, offers Cooper the company of someone who understands what she faces each day, but without any real emotional attachments. While their relationship is ultimately a short-lived mistake, Cooper does not face any Scarlet Letter moments with Rhys afterward. In my opinion, Cooper does lose part of the humanity Jack admires about her when she gives Rhys the amnesia pills after confessing to him, but the secret is hers alone to bear without any kind of global aftereffects. It’s refreshing to see this approach — i.e., in shows of the supranatural type, I’ve often seen female characters engage in some sort of “dishonorable” or “unheroic” behavior to only shortly afterward face some sort of vital personal and global threat, as if the fate of the whole world were somehow tied to their personal honor or to whom they slept with. Not so on this show, in Torchwood Cooper’s indiscretion has only personal repercussions, not global ones. In fact, Cooper took control of the situation and broke off her affair with Harper instead of becoming the stereotypical jilted woman. She’s permitted to be an imperfect person and to make mistakes.

Cooper never stops thinking with both her heart and her head, and we often see her as a formidable debater with Jack and the other members of the team. She stands her ground often and despite being a newbie to the group, continually demonstrates her marked contribution to the team. Cooper is also the first member of the team to learn of Jack’s secret inability to die.

Quote found via the The To Be Human Gwen Cooper Fanlisting.